The Grinning Mask
By Ryan Taylor
This was thrust into my hands at the recent BICS show by Ryan, one of the Midlands Comic Collective; a group of young comic artists chaired by Laura Howell and mentored by Hunt Emerson. Beneath a lovely cover lies quite an interesting proposition of a comic. Flawed perhaps, but Taylor is a relative newcomer and definitely shows promise.
The Grinning Mask issue 1 is the opening chapter in a horror story, told from the point of view of a young, horror comics loving boy called Jack. This first chapter does a good job of introducing Taylor’s story, showing us a little of young Jack’s life – his family, his school, his obvious obsession with the horror comics racked at the local shop:
(Jack’s off to get his horror comic fix at the local shop. That first panel – the hair, the nose, the ears – Steve Parkhouse? I think so. From Ryan Taylor’s The Grinning Mask Issue 1)
It has a 50s/60s vibe, reflected in the architecture, the furniture and the attitudes presented on the comics page. This is never confirmed, but Taylor doesn’t need to implicitly state it, he does enough through his art to fix his story in a time gone by. And this all plays into creating a world of yesteryear, and the innocence we all associate with it. Consequently, when Jack is convinced by his mates to venture into the churchyard at night to investigate the reports of vampires at the full moon it’s perfectly believable due to Taylor’s careful scene setting.
There are mysteries developing in The Grinning Mask as well: Jack and his mates are terrified by a figure rising from the gravestones on their nocturnal visit, but it may just be the Verger. More puzzling are Jack’s dreams of the grinning mask of the title and the cliffhanger that the priest discovers in the church the next morning. Mysteries no doubt that we’ll get to in subsequent issues.
The art is a nicely done semi-cartooning style, reminiscent of both old Commando library style artists and a favourite of mine – Steve Parkhouse.
It’s not perfect, far from it. The dialogue is too stiff at times, and I found myself filling in the colloquialisms I expected the characters to come out with rather than reading Taylor’s chosen, slightly too formal dialogue. Similarly the art and story had a tendency to jump a little too much from scene to scene.
But these criticisms are perhaps a little too harsh. The important thing with The Grinning Mask is that the story, albeit thin, is more that interesting enough to make me think Taylor’s work has promise and certainly interesting enough to be intrigued as to where he’ll take it with the second issue.
Taylor had a very successful debut for The Grinning Mask at BICS recently but is reprinting issue 1 very soon. Get in touch with him at his blog for details.